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Staying Smart in the Heat - Plein-Air Painting

Heather Martin

If you’ve been a plein-air painter for a while, you’ve probably experienced this. The sun is scorching, your sweat and sunscreen is dripping fire into your eyes, your paints are dried to tiny crusty bits, and you want to finish but literally just...can’t.

While I’m no pro at managing the heat, here are a few tricks I have up my sleeve to make it slightly more tolerable. Simply avoiding the heat isn’t an option for me, living in the “deep east bay” of California. Temps easily get over 105 in the summer, and boy the summers are LONG.

Before I say anymore, please BE SAFE, and take care of yourself. A painting is not worth getting heat stroke or exhaustion from! Regularly step away and take breaks so you can pay attention to your body. It’s so easy to get in the groove and be totally unaware until it’s too late. I've put myself in a lot of dangerous heat conditions, and it took an embarrassingly long time to figure out what the safe boundaries were. Look how much I've learned!

Are you ready? The number 1 advice is...to find SHADE. It might seem obvious, but sometimes there are scenes and subjects that beg to be painted, but with no shade in sight. I’ve fallen for that many times, and almost always regret it. Just don’t do it if the temperatures are rising.

Remember, with the sun, the shade will move. So pay attention to which direction so that your shady paradise doesn’t quickly become a scorcher. There are apps out there that tell you the direction of the sun. (I wish I took my advice sometimes.) Here’s an old painting of Sidney Rhoads. She’s smart to find some dappled shade in our yard.

I would be lost without my umbrella. To be honest, it’s more for shading the precious palette. Priorities, right? I just invested in another large umbrella for our yard, so that I can shade myself, but it’s not worth hauling around.

I've gotta say though, it's worth investing in if you paint around home a lot. We have a very open backyard which would limit me to certain spots, but now with this umbrella I can go anywhere! It even comes with stakes, and can be angled in different directions. Get one HERE!

The one I use for plein-air painting is called the Best Brella, and it’s lightweight and easy to use. I recommend the white one, because the silver one makes the shade super dark and can make your paintings seem washed out. If it’s REALLY hot, take the silver one though, as it is better sun protection. Just be sure to check your painting in the sun to see how it looks. Windy conditions make this option a no-go though, and I’ve seen many easels (including my own) go flying in another direction in unpredictable gusts.

Be sure to have a cold water on hand, too. We have two of these can coolers that do an amazing job at keeping my waters cold for hours. The downside is that everyone always thinks it’s a beer, and it attracts more attention than I'd like.

If you start to feel as if you’re overheating, head to the nearest bathroom or source of cool water, soak a paper towel and wrap it around your neck. This has helped me dramatically. There are a lot of cooling towels and shirts that you can find that make a big difference as well. Soaking your hat in water can be a lifesaver too!

Last but certainly not least, protect your skin. I keep an extra sunscreen in my painting bag and consider it an essential. My favorite one is the Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch from Neutrogena. It’s very light and non-greasy, and is one of the only brands that doesn’t burn my eyeballs out when I accidentally rub my eye. 

Phew, that was a long post. I hope it helps! Do you have any tips? Please shout them out in the comments, I’m ALWAYS looking for help to cope with the dreaded Concord heat!


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